The family from One End Street (1937)

The family from One End Street by Eve Garnett won the Carnegie Medal in 1937. It is the earliest of the “Carnegies of Carnegies” voted for by a national poll in 2007 to select the public’s favourite Carnegie winner of the past 70 years. It is also a favourite book of mine. There’s a ‘series’ of three books about the family from One End Street, and I was given the third one, Holiday at the Dew Drop Inn (1962), in the Danish translation when I was a child. My love of that book reflects back onto the predecessors in the series, though I prefer Holiday for its description of life in the countryside.

Garnett was also an illustrator and self-illustrated all her own books as well as works by other authors (A Child’s Garden of Verse amongst them). She illustrated a book by Evelyn Sharp The London Child (1927) and the work apparently left her with a persistent interest in reflecting on the life of working-class children. She completed a book of drawings with commentary called Is It Well With The Child? (1938) which has some very sharp reflections on the life of working class children, for instance this drawing:

Friend (to first twin): “Wot’s ‘e cryin’ for?’ Frist Twin: “‘Cos he can’t come to Sunday School – it ain’t his turn for the tidy troussis”

Eve Garnett did have trouble finding a publisher for The Family from One End Street, as it was not considered suitable for children (!). The enduring success of the book has proven this wrong. Further, Margery Fisher (Intent Upon Reading (1967)) speculates that Eve Garnett enabled a generation of authors to write about working-class experience without the stories being specifically ‘about class’. We also read this book in my university ‘Carnegie Study Group’ and one person, a teacher, commented on how she could easily see how the episodic nature of the book could work well in the classroom and be used to spark all kinds of conversation amongst the students.

On a completely different note, like in Pigeon Post, it is striking to see how much more freedom (some) children had in the 1920s and 1930s. In The Family from One End Street, it is not an expression of idyllic escapism into the countryside, nor of neglect, but the natural effect of lack of space at home combined with a greater expectation of the self-sufficiency of children. This too is a salutary lesson!

Score: 8/10

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